I'll return to my other flow of posts in a bit, but in the meantime Dron has responded to my last four, and there are some things worth addressing.
particular, he complains about my focusing sometimes on single
paragraphs and even sentences - "out of context," he says. But from
where I sit, you can't just use words as though they have any meaning
you want - or no fixed meaning at all - without getting some of this
analytical treatment in response. But I'll elaborate.
The Family of Ideas
There is a very large difference between his characterization this time of the 'family of ideas' as compared to what we saw last time.
Last time: "about how to learn
in a networked society, all of which adopt a systems view, all of which
recognize the distributed nature of knowledge, all of which embrace the
role of mediating artefacts, all of which recognize that more is
different, all of which adopt a systems perspective, all of which
describe or proscribe ways to engage in this new ecology."
This time: "family of theories aligned by a number of common themes (such as
connectedness, networks, emergence, distributed intelligence, knowledge
in non-human entities, etc) and sharing a common purpose (largely making
sense of what that entails)"
These are very different. The
first describes (as I pointed out in another post) a list of things
very different from what I would consider to be connectivist. The second
picks up on themes much more consistent with the concept. But I think
this is incidental - for Dron, what seems to be more important is
whether connectivism is one theory or a family of theories.
To me, it's an odd position to take. Dron writes, "I have no major problems with it if
it (the Downes version of connectivism) is presented as one of a number
of relevant theories in the family of connectivist ideas." But if I set
as my target the articulation of what is actually the case in learning, and what actually works, then his position is very different.
"I have far greater problems accepting Downes's theory as a definitive
account of what ‘connectivism' actually refers to," he says. Instead,
he writes, "my (Dron's) intent is to keep the field open, to allow for
interpretations and acceptance of alternative perspectives around the
My perspective is this: if Dron wants to have the freedom to assert a bunch of theories I consider wrong, then I think he is free to do that. But that's not what he wants. He wants me to present my theory in such a ways that (a) it includes
his theories, whatever they are, and (b) doesn't make a judgment as to
the rightness of what I am saying versus the wrongness of what he is
My response to Dron is something like: why do you need this name? Why don't you go out and get your own name? Of course, he
suggests that, since George coined the name, then I have no more right
to it than he does. If so, then he and George can go fight it out, and
leave me out of it. But from my perspective, the name George
coined ten years ago described what he and I were doing at the time,
which was (and is) largely the same sort of thing, and has not somehow
since then become something else.
You might ask, what's in a name? But that's why we get back to precision and what words mean. In different theories words mean different things,
and if he doesn't even agree with me about what words mean, it seems
unreasonable for him to be saying he is proposing the same theory, or
even 'more or less' the same theory.
perspective, it's like an advocate of intelligent design being asked to
be called an evolutionist, on the basis that we talk about the same sort
of thing. My response is, if it's up to me, I'm not going to call you
an evolutionist, because you don't actually support evolution.
Embracing and Distorting
Dron says, "As it has emerged in recent years, it looks as though the word
'connectivism' is acquiring a common usage that embraces but extends
(and often distorts) the views of Siemens and Downes. In my opinion this
is, in process terms, a good thing, though I do recognize that this is
arguable and that this is fundamentally what the argument is about."
the fact that (say we say) people are "distorting" the theory I
originally proposed (or that George originally prposed) does not entail
that I should (a) accept that those are a version of`what I originally
proposed, (b) accept that they are just as true as what I originally
proposed, and (c) call them by the same name as what I originally
Let's call them what they are: not similar to what was actually proposed, and in fact distortions of the meaning and intent of the term and theory.
Dron argues, " a broader, more inclusive definition means that it is easier to
straddle boundaries, cross-pollinate ideas, exploit diversity, and find
connection and commonality where there might otherwise be ignorance."
What to me that means is that it makes it easier for people who are not actually connectivists to claim that they are connectivists, and to assume for themselves whatever popularity and support the theory has obtained over the years.
you don't need to call two theories by the same name in order to
cross-pollinate ideas, exploit diversity, and find connection and
commonality. For example, I would say that a lot of this has taken place
between connectivists and constructivists. But that doesn't mean we
should start calling them the same theory.
Dron makes the point, "The issues are not dissimilar to those surrounding, for example, the
word ‘constructivism’, as it is used in an educational context"
George Siermens and I have made the point that it makes it pretty much
impossible to talk about constructivism. Every time we identify
something about constructivism we disagree with, someone comes along and
ways "well there's this version of constructivism that doesn't do it that way."
term "constructivism" has become so broad as to be almost meaningless.
There has been no clearly defined theory toward which investigators
could get close and closer. Anyone who claimed to be a constructivist
was counted as such. At a certain point, there is no theory with which
people can say they agree or disagree. It becomes a fuzzy political
movement, not science (which is what makes it so easy for wags like
Kirschner and Willingham to assail).
Dron says he "posted a rough first-try at making sense of my own understanding of connectivism
last week." I applaud him for the effort. But I reserve the right to
say he got it wrong. Not because I am some kind of 'arbiter of meaning'.
But because I believe that the theory he asserted (whatever he calls it) is wrong.
No argument that people have 'distorted' either the name of the
theory or the theory itself compells me to change my stance on that. The
only thing that would would be were Dron's characterization of the
theory empirically correct, and he has attempted no such defense.
Systems and Networks, Redux
wit: his various descriptions of networks as 'systems'. Which is
exactly the sort of thing I mean. It is, first, not what was ever
intended by connectivism, and second, empirically wrong (ie., networks
that learn are not systems).
Here's Dron's defense: "He (Downes) has a very different view of the definition of a system than
the one that I hold, or the one that people who talk about weather
systems, planetary systems, nervous systems and ecosystems hold."
He then attempts a positive account: "My view of systems is that they are concerned with the ways that
networked entities (including other systems) interact with and affect
one another, and the consequent emergent and/or designed behaviours that
we can observe within them. They are concerned with connected parts that affect one or more other
connected parts, be they molecules in a cloud, people in a social
network, neurons, planets, stars, blood vessels or networked computers."
is a better version but is again a very different story from the one he
gave just a few days ago, using a very different vocabulary.
But there's a looseness - a sloppiness
- that makes it impossible to characterize as connectivist. What does
it mean to say that "systems are concerned with..."? I'm sure he doesn't
mean that systems are sentient entities that have problems, thoughts
and concerns. Maybe he means that the term 'system' is coextensive with
the term 'networked entities that interact... (etc).' Or maybe not. We
just don't know.
He says, "If that doesn't make them pretty firmly and squarely in the centre of a
field concerned with how entities affect other entities in a network
then it is hard to see what could."
The problem is that connectivism is not "a
field concerned with how entities affect other entities in a networ." That's a terrible
statement of what connectivism is. It's like saying that, because
"connectivism is concerned with learning" and "fascism is concerned with
learning," that "connectivism is fascism." Sorry. It's not.
is today saying he wasn't proposing a systems theory of learning, yet
just last week, the words, terminology and concepts were all drawn from
that theory. What this tells me is that he's coming from a very
different perspective. He can deny it all he wants, but his words betray
That's why I focus on the words.